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The New York Times Gets Money and Politics Wrong

Nicholas Confessore’s long front-page article in Monday’s New York Times, “Rauner and his Wealthy Friends Are Remaking Illinois,” raises concerns about the power of rich individuals to influence elections. The article both subtly and overtly argues that rich people are using their money to overturn the kind of government citizens of Illinois want.  But it actually shows the importance of preserving the First Amendment right to push back against the ingrained biases of the government and the media, like the New York Times itself.

The premise of the article appears to be that Bruce Rauner was elected governor of Illinois last November because of his ability to outspend his opponent, Pat Quinn. But the article omits a key fact – Quinn had the kind of  very high disapproval rating that generally dooms an incumbent.  Moreover, the race was not a very close one that could easily be changed by differential spending.  Rauner defeated Quinn with 50.8 percent of the vote to Quinn’s 45.9 percent.

Second, the article also does not discuss all of Quinn’s advantages from the support of public sector unions. These advantages include not only their capacity to make contributions and independent expenditures, but also their innate advantages in motivating their members to vote in favor of candidates who will give them a sweet deal. The article implies that campaign expenditures are the most important kind of disproportionate influence that citizens can have, but the structure of government itself also creates ingrained biases.

Third, the article does not describe at any length the dreadful condition of Illinois.  It does acknowledge its terrible fiscal situation that has worsened under the leadership of both parties – because of politicians’ incentives to make nice with public sector unions.  But the New York Times article goes on to note that a provision in the Illinois Constitution that prohibits progressive taxation, as if more taxes on the rich would be the silver bullet.

The article does not discuss the many other dysfunctional aspects of Illinois that have nothing to do with taxes and spending.  It is the third worst state in the nation in which to do business. Its strong public sector unions degrade public services. To take just one example, unions make it hard to discipline police officers. Hence an action of a police officer shooting someone sixteen times mostly while on the ground, despite having a litany of past infractions, becomes more likely.

The article suggests that the problem with the contributions of rich people is that they are creating an Illinois that other people do not want. But the article fails  to mention that Illinois shed more people than any other state in the country last year and has been declining in population relative to other states for decades.  People are voting with their feet that they do not like the kind of Illinois they have.

Thus the article selects some facts and omits others  to advance the left-liberal agenda of regulating speech at the time of elections. Of course, it does not mention the agenda control that the media and academia exercises at other times—a media and academia whose measured ideology is more different from the average American than that of rich people. Mr. Confessore’s effort provides yet more evidence why everyone, including the rich, must have the right to distribute their messages as far and wide as the media.

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on December 01, 2015 at 17:07:39 pm

The premise of the article appears to be that Bruce Rauner was elected governor of Illinois last November because of his ability to outspend his opponent, Pat Quinn. But the article omits a key fact – Quinn had the kind of very high disapproval rating that generally dooms an incumbent.

In support of this thesis, McGinnis links to an article that noted that does not mention Quinn’s disapproval rating. It did note that Quinn had low approval ratings – and that Quinn was nevertheless leading in the polls. This would seem to undermine, rather than support, McGinnis’s claim.

[T]he race was not a very close one that could easily be changed by differential spending. Rauner defeated Quinn with 50.8 percent of the vote to Quinn’s 45.9 percent.

Rauner spent roughly 3x as much as any previous campaign for governor – and that shouldn’t be expected to swing 2.5% of the vote?

Moreover, what is McGinnis’s thesis here? That the NYT is wrong in suggesting that money makes a lot of difference in elections – and therefore restrictions on campaign finance just don’t matter? Or that large campaign contributions do alter the outcome of elections, and thus the NYT is correct in saying so?

Quinn’s advantages from the support of public sector unions. These advantages include not only their capacity to make contributions and independent expenditures, but also their innate advantages in motivating their members to vote in favor of candidates who will give them a sweet deal. The article implies that campaign expenditures are the most important kind of disproportionate influence that citizens can have, but the structure of government itself also creates ingrained biases.

Do I understand McGinnis to condemn corporate campaign contributions and independent expenditures?

Do I understand McGinnis to condemn Republican candidates who solicit campaign contributions from the wealthy while promising tax cuts and regulatory waivers that predominantly favor the wealthy?

Third, the article does not describe at any length the dreadful condition of Illinois. It does acknowledge its terrible fiscal situation that has worsened under the leadership of both parties – because of politicians’ incentives to make nice with public sector unions.

And this explains why Illinois government has failed to fund employee pension plans – how? Wouldn’t these all-powerful employee unions insist that government fund their pension plans first?

[E]veryone, including the rich, must have the right to distribute their messages as far and wide as the media.

Do I understand McGinnis to favor publicly-financed campaigns?

Bottom line: Quinn came into office promising not to raise income taxes, but when he realized Illinois’s terrible financial condition, then raised taxes. Rauner is a political outsider with no political record to defend, who promised to all Illinois’s financial problems, and ran during a wave year for Republicans. Now – surprise, surprise – it is Rauner who has low approval ratings, and disapproval ratings exceeding 50% (at least as polled in Southern Illinois).

Polling data demonstrates that Rauner is promoting policies that the majority of Illinois residents don’t favor.* That may well be true of journalists, too. But these propositions are not in conflict.

Ironically, the leftist sociologist Max Weber argued that ridged, dehunanizing bureaucracy would come to dominate human endeavors, and the only hope for change would arise from charismatic individuals. Arguably, today’s “charisma” – the ability to convey a message – is manifest in money.** Seen through this prism, it’s easy to regard Rauner’s rise as that of a charismatic individual disrupting an entrenched bureaucracy. And seen through this prism, efforts to limit campaign spending would have the effect of bolstering the power of the entrenched bureaucracy vs. the charismatic individual – for better and worse.

* In fairness, it’s unclear that a majority of Illinois citizens would oppose the package of reforms that Rauner offers, even if they might oppose individual components.

**Admittedly, Trump has demonstrated a remarkably capacity to convey a message without spending much, which undermines my thesis about charisma being measured in money.

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nobody.really
on December 02, 2015 at 10:06:54 am

[…] John McGinnis: […]

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“The New York Times Gets Money and Politics Wrong” | Election Law Blog
on December 02, 2015 at 11:58:13 am

[…] Read more… […]

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Daily Media Links 12/2: The New York Times Gets Money and Politics Wrong, Wary of Donald Trump, G.O.P. Leaders Are Caught in a Standoff,
on December 02, 2015 at 19:12:30 pm

Nobody - pretty good. I would add another caution against "charisma being measured in money" - I give you the case of Jeb Bush - ain't no amount of money gunna infuse him with charisma - and he has got a lot of it from big donors... I guess the switch from John Ellis Bush to "JEB" isn't providing him with enough good ole boy charisma.

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gabe

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